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9 Oct 2019

Shut out from travel insurance

Millions are unable to get covered for their holidays because of their health or age

If you're young and in good health, travel insurance is easily available and cheap to buy. But for many of us falling outside this bubble, obtaining full cover for a holiday can be a nightmare.

Recent estimates by insurance watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) suggest around 40% of travel insurance customers declared a medical condition last year .

Of those customers, more than one in 10 of these (1.4-1.6 million people) had one or more of their conditions excluded from the insurance policy as a result.

But for a handful of people, their illness could make it near-impossible to get insured at all.

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Abby's story

Abby, 38, from Norfolk (pictured), was looking forward to going on a cruise with her parents, husband and their three-year-old daughter, Lottie (also pictured). Three weeks before they were to set off, Lottie caught a sickness bug. While ill, she experienced a series of seizure-like symptoms.

These were scary, but Lottie was quick to recover and her doctors weren't concerned that it was anything sinister. She was booked for a scan and to see a specialist consultant in a few months.

However, when Abby updated Admiral, her insurer, she was faced a tough dilemma.

While Admiral would pay for compensation if Abby cancelled the holiday, they wouldn't cover Lottie to travel even for a higher premium - on the grounds that she had an undiagnosed condition.

With just days left before their holiday, Abby and her family needed to find a new insurer. They tried an array of brokers and insurers, but at this late stage none were able to arrange cover for Lottie.

Ultimately, they relied on the private health insurance Abby's husband had through his work.

Difficulty insuring medical conditions

When we contacted Admiral for a response, it told us it apologises for the disappointment caused, but that it takes a conservative approach towards those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Admiral stated it has chosen not to insure anyone travelling while undergoing tests or investigation for an undiagnosed condition. This is because it can't assess the risk of an unknown or unconfirmed medical condition and, therefore, it isn't able to decide a suitable premium or offer appropriate cover.

Abby's experience, while part of a minority of cases, isn't unique. In June, we surveyed 1,051 Which? members to see how many recently ran into problems accessing insurance. Almost one in 10 had - most typically involving travel insurance, medical conditions and age.

Three respondents in our survey indicated barriers because they were awaiting tests, or because medical uncertainties made some of the insurers' questions 'unanswerable'.

One Which? member, Christine, had to abandon holiday plans in May - as she was awaiting a specialist consultation in November concerning a non-urgent skin condition.

Even when you have a diagnosis, it can be difficult to find suitable cover. Firms willing to cover higher risk conditions (such as heart disease or cancer) for an affordable premium often don't feature on comparison sites.

Age sees choice diminish

Which? found that travel insurance can also prove to be a closed shop for older customers.

When we analysed premiums charged on 381 policies by 139 insurers, the average premium for an annual European policy lurched up by 65% (from £69 to £114) for healthy customers entering their late 60s.

And once you reach your 70s - while premiums continue to increase relentlessly - policy choice rapidly diminishes. Looking at policies' maximum ages, a customer turning 70 could theoretically choose from 86% of the annual policies we examined. By the time they're 80, this has sunk to 30%.

Travel insurance premiums by age

We analysed premiums charged on 381 policies charged by 139 insurers. The chart shows how the average premium of four types of travel insurance policy increase with age. These average premiums assume no pre-existing medical conditions.

Plans to help consumers get insured

Both the insurance industry and the FCA have acknowledged that some groups of customers struggle to find affordable insurance, particularly those with medical conditions.

The FCA has proposed plans to introduce a 'directory' of specialist insurers, which customers will be signposted to by any insurers quoting them extra for medical conditions, declining to cover them or adding exclusions.

Questions still remain about how the directory is to be maintained, the usefulness of information provided about the companies on it and the stage at which customers will be pointed towards it.

However, this should hopefully prove a helpful development for some customers who until now have had to pay over the odds or forgone cover altogether.

What to do if you're turned down for travel insurance

  1. Check specialist insurers and brokers. When comparing insurance prices, we generally recommend starting with comparison sites as this allows you to cover a lot of ground quickly. However, don't despair if these don't return affordable cover for your condition. Many insurers specialising in medical conditions don't appear on these sites, so you may just need to broaden your search.
  2. Check our website. We've analysed a number of specialist insurers and brokers on our site. Check out our travel insurance reviews.
  3. Check BIBA. The British Insurance Broker's Association runs a 'Find Insurance' service, designed to point customers in the direction of suitable insurance firms. You can reach them online or on 0370 950 1790.
  4. Consider single trip cover. If insurers see you as high risk, they may shy away from offering annual cover but be prepared to cover you for individual trips. This is well worth considering. Particularly in the case of older customers, covering multiple trips individually can sometimes prove more cost effective than under a single policy.
  5. Don't lie. If you're asked to declare all medical conditions, the worst thing to do is not report one. While doing so could shave some money off your premium, it could potentially invalidate your policy if you make a claim.
  6. Be prepared for long phone conversations. Don't be put off by an insurer asking you to call them. The more specific a picture an insurer has about your circumstances, the fairer a price they can offer. Sometimes, this necessitates a telephone conversation.